Colossal (2017) review
The metaphor at the heart of Colossal’s bizarre story is as subtle as, well, a towering monster wrecking a city, but given how ridiculous this strange film’s central concept is, writer-director Nacho Vigalondo never really had a choice.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a once-successful, now out-of-work writer partying her way across New York City and taking advantage her well-intentioned but overbearing boyfriend Tim, played by Dan Stevens.
One morning, as the pair play out an exchange that’s all too easy to imagine has become routine for them, Tim responds to Gloria’s rehearsed excuse for another boozy night by breaking up with her and throwing her out of his lush apartment.
With nowhere else to go, Gloria returns to her Middle America hometown looking to clean herself up. After reuniting with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and drinking another night away, she learns, along with the rest of the world, that an enormous bipedal monster has mysteriously appeared in Seoul, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
Colossal is a Kaiju movie, but with a twist. Gloria and the monster are somehow intrinsically linked; the later mimicking her drunken movements on a city-bothering scale at a set time each day, and only for a few minutes.
It’s played for a few laughs early on — the gentle humour of the first act doing a great job easing audiences in as the ludicrous situation is realised, but Colossal doesn’t ignore the human cost either.
Gloria’s alcoholism taking the form of a literal monster unaware of the damage it’s causing is as on-the-nose as a metaphor can be, but Vigalondo’s light script and the turns his story takes make it all work.
Hathaway’s performance is also central to the film’s success. She plays the loser drunk well, but brings enough charisma, humour and pathos to Gloria to make her character development feel natural and earned. When the character appears to have her act together, Hathaway is convincing as a healthier version of Gloria that audiences can believe existed before her messy introduction at the start of the film.
Her struggle is undercut however by the character’s privilege. While Hathaway is charming enough to counter it for the most part, at the start of the film her character is supposed to be at a somewhat sympathetic low, and yet in her hometown she strolls straight into an enormous house she’s inherited.
Gloria’s realisation that she and the monster are one and the same is at first a source of amusement for her, until one wrong move causes her to realise the chaos she’s capable of causing, and the cost of it. After this, the reality of the situation hits her like King Kong swatting a biplane, convincing her to face her demons.
The damage to the South Korean capital is conveyed to the audience through clichéd shots of people running through streets, the army showing up and so on, but the use of these familiar shots plays into the ridiculous, genre-warping concept.
When the human cost needs to be conveyed seriously it’s done so well, often through the use of sound from Seoul overlapping with scenes set in the US. A connection between the two distant locations is important for the narrative stakes, and the filmmakers do a good job conveying that to the audience.
After Gloria’s discovery, Colossal appears to be heading in a trite, familiar direction, one that threatens to turn saccharine. Instead, the film takes a surprising turn.
The first half of the film is a one-woman show, but in the second half Sudeikis rises to meet Hathaway’s performance with one of the best of his own career. Playing on the kind of roles the comic is known for, Sudeikis’s character becomes something much more profound.
Oscar is as much of a mess as Gloria, but where her damage is self-inflicted, his is rooted more deeply. The way Vigalondo explores this, and how it affects both Gloria and the story as a whole, sets up an interesting and charged conclusion.
Just as Godzilla is about the perils of nuclear power and King Kong is about man interfering with nature, Colossal is a Kaiju film that uses its otherworldly star to say something about people, only on a much more personal level.
That it works so well allegorically, and on more levels than those I’ve mentioned, remedies its lapses in logic too.
A film with such a high concept doesn’t need to make perfect sense to work, but it does need an internal logic that holds everything together within the set-up created for itself. In this regard, Colossal just barely works, its own logic held together by the barest threads.
The set of rules laid out to define Gloria’s connection to the monster appear to have been concocted purely to prevent gaping plot holes, but even those rules don’t make all that much sense, as they rely heavily on coincidence and questionable timing.
It doesn’t impact the film’s emotional clout, but making sense of how the film wants me to believe everything works did take me out of the story from time to time.
Regardless, Colossal is one of the most unique films you’ll see all year.
Tell people the basic plot of the film and most will say there’s no way it could work as anything other than a pure comedy, but Vigalondo’s weird concept is realised well enough to service laughs and character drama in equal measure, and that’s no small feat.
Hathaway and Sudeikis provide two fantastic lead performances, but if for no other reason than the gall it must have taken for Nacho Vigalondo to even pitch this idea, Colossal is well worth seeing.